In less than two decades, the twenty-first century has brought sweeping changes to most significant industries both domestic and abroad. The technological revolution that came with the creation of the internet, indelibly altered the way businesses and markets function and interact. Part and parcel with this rapid change in technology and communication was the rise of the e-commerce boom with retailers or vendors shifting their emphasis on how goods can be sold. Today, thanks in part to the successful models put out by eBay and Amazon, customers are not only comfortable but in many cases, prefer to shop online and have their goods, be they clothes, groceries or products delivered directly to their door. Further, Amazon Prime’s model of the standard two-day delivery wholly altered the market and how rapidly buyers expect their goods to be delivered. Because this shift in how customer’s view shipping, it is now far more critical than merely getting your products from point A to point B, the factory to their door. Due to this change in customer expectations, companies are ever more reliant on the efficacy of their shipping and the ability to ensure that their goods are not only delivered to their customer but done so as fast as possible.
Shipping mistakes will sacrifice success
A company’s success or failure may depend on the speed and accuracy of deliveries and in customer’s eyes, those factors represent your company’s commitment to excellence and customer satisfaction. Because of that, your success can hinge on the edge of a knife with that margin separating the two is a razor thin line. This means that shipping mistakes can quite literally make or break a company. Therefore, knowing and avoiding common shipping mistakes can be the ultimate difference maker. Below are a dozen common shipping mistakes and remedies for those issues.
Mistake #1: incorrect packaging
Faulty packaging is the primary cause of damaged freight, which leaves you with unhappy customers and much higher costs. Therefore, it behooves you to know what items you are shipping and package them appropriately. According to experts, the structural integrity of most any shipping box undergoes significant break down over the course of a single journey; and that is for boxes that are correctly sized and packed. This structural damage exponentially increases if a package is improperly packed or sized. Think about the amount of time and care you put into creating a fantastic product, why then would you negate all that work with re-using shipping boxes or utilizing boxes of an improper fit? Consider what it is you are shipping and pack accordingly. Different items will require varying amounts of care and protection, with much depending on an item’s weight, size and fragility. For specialty goods, it may be worth it to work with package engineering specialists who can help create custom packages designed specifically for that product. Regardless, even after selecting the right packaging, make sure that your goods are secured to their pallet and not filled with overhanging packages; instead, interlock-stack or column stack goods, secure them with stretch wrap and bands and use cushioning to increase strength, stability, and shock absorption. A little extra time or money is worth the cost of ensuring that your goods arrive intact and unmarred.
Mistake #2: an inaccurate BOL
The Bill of Lading is the key document that is required for every freight shipment. It is a legally binding document that gives both the carrier and the driver all the needed details to process and invoice the freight accurately. The bill of lading includes:
- Shipper’s and consignee’s full names and addresses
- The date of the shipment
- The number of units being shipped
- Freight classification of items being shipped
- The declared value of goods being shipped
- Type of packaging
- Description of items being shipped, the name and material of manufacture
- The exact weight of the shipment
- PO or special account numbers used between businesses for order tracking.
- Special instructions for the carrier to ensure prompt delivery
- A note if the materials are potentially hazardous
All too often shippers will either use the wrong commodity description; use the wrong piece count or notify party; fail to read the terms and conditions of the bill of lading; or fail to inform the carrier of hazardous material. All of these mistakes on the Bill of Lading can be extremely costly and can be avoided by carefully filling out the information, double checking that information and then having someone else look it over and ensure its accuracy. While this may seem like a pain or a time drain, it is worth it to avoid the additional charges or mistakes that result from being less than 100% accurate.
Mistake #3: listing the wrong weight of freight class
While this point ties into mistake #2, it is important enough to have its own listing. Improperly listing weight or freight class may be the most costly mistake you make. If you do not utilize a weigh station and simply guess your shipment’s weight, you will inevitably receive additional fees. The same can be said about improper freight class. Because a lower class is associated with a lower price, shippers all too often attempt to list their shipment in as low a class as possible. If they are incorrect though, that reclassification fee will be much higher than the margin from one class to another. While this may not seem like a big deal, if you are shipping hundreds, if not thousands of shipments a year, those additional fees can add up fast.
Mistake #4: listing the wrong address
Similarly, this is a small, but clumsy mistake that can cost you dearly and delay your shipment from arriving on time. If you list the wrong address, your delivery will end up at the wrong place. As a result, it will have to be tracked down and re-routed to the right address. This will mean rerouting fees, missed deadlines and unhappy customers.
Mistake #5: not having freight insurance
All too often, shippers avoid insurance to cut their costs. While it may be cheaper in the short run, such an approach will be far costlier in the long term. If you ship a large tonnage and ship frequently, odds are, goods will inevitably be damaged in one way or another, be it an overturned truck, an accident, theft, natural disasters or various other problems that may arise that ruin a shipment. Human error must be considered, and this likelihood of a mistake occurring increases with distance traveled and the more a package is handled. The small price of having insurance on these goods saves you from worrying about the inevitable speed bumps that happen over time and save you from the potentially financially crippling costs of replacing an entire shipment.
Mistake #6: not palletizing
Although palletizing may take time and effort, it is far better than merely having a loose stack of items free to move around in the truck and face damage. Further, most LTL companies will not allow you to ship without using a pallet. As a result, they will then palletize your goods if you do not, and the cost and fees of them doing so is astronomically higher than if you were just to do it yourself. It should also be mentioned that they are not nearly as incentivized to ensure that the palletizing is done in such a way as to best protect the goods from damage. They do not care about your assets as much as you do, so why place that responsibility in their hands?
Mistake #7: not using ground transit
While it may seem counterintuitive, air freight transit does not necessarily mean a package will be delivered at a quicker pace. While the goods will move between airports faster, there are a whole series of steps that must occur to get the freight to the airport, on the plane, off the plane, and to their destination. All too often this ends up creating a longer freight process than simply shipping the goods over the ground. If you have a carrier that is overly reliant on one form of transit or another, you may be hobbling your flexibility and efficiency. There’s a time and place for every type of transportation, be it rail, boat, plane or truck, each has their pros and cons.
Mistake #8: offering insufficient shipping options
Many customers may always select the cheapest or free shipping. However, plenty demand more flexibility. An inadequate amount of shipping options may turn potential customers away. Customers value having choices, and you do them a disservice if you do not offer a variety of shipping options.
Mistake #9: signing the BOL without inspecting the shipment
One of the most important aspects of protecting your company is an inspection of delivered freight. If you sign the BOL without looking for damages, you legally say that the package was correctly delivered. Such laziness can cost you tremendously and can also prevent you from being able to file a damaged freight claim successfully. So, upon receiving a shipment, do your due diligence and check the freight thoroughly.
Mistake #10: refusing damaged freight
Remember, damaged freight is inevitable in the shipping industry. You will eventually face a time when you have to decide whether or not to sign for damaged goods. ALWAYS sign. Refusing to take the goods will only cost you more money in the long run. Accept the damaged goods and immediately make a note of any damages or mistakes on the Bill of Lading. An unannotated BOL is a receipt that grants that the freight was not only delivered but in excellent condition as well and carriers will use a BOL as proof of undamaged delivery in court. By making a note of damages incurred, you dramatically increase the chances of a damaged freight claim being successful. Once you have accepted the shipment and noted the damages, you should immediately file a damaged freight claim. The Cormac Amendment states a carrier within the U.S. has to respond to a damage claim within a month of the initial filing. After that, a final written disposition must be given within a three-month period. After that, you have a two-year window to dispute those claims. It is essential that you store the damaged freight somewhere safe where it will be neither lost nor incur further damage. By following proper procedures for inspecting and reporting damaged freight, you can save yourself a ton of hassles and headaches.
Mistake #11: shipping then forgetting the package
Quite commonly shippers will send their package and then effectively wash their hands clean of the situation. They did their part; now it is on the carrier to make sure the goods are delivered. A problem arises, however, when customers have complaints, issues or desire a refund. A shipper should stay on top of all deliveries and monitor their statuses to ensure safe and prompt delivery. Remember, it is not the carrier which is held accountable for shipping mistakes, it is you, the person who contracted them. Because of that, your job is to oversee everything until the goods arrive at your customer’s doorstep.
While there are a variety of other shipping mistakes one can make, by avoiding the most common mistakes, you set your company up for success. The vast majority of these errors have to do with a lackadaisical mindset, so, be mindful, be vigilant and you will end up saving yourself money and having more satisfied customers.